One of the major chunks of the present tourism market is the adventure tourism or the active tourism. This type of tourism involves physical activity in a tourist destination. Some of the most popular activities are mountaineering, trekking, white water rafting, skiing, cross country skiing and ski mountaineering and a host of other thrilling sports. Let us consider just one activity that is skiing in winter. According to the International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism, as of April 2018, Germany had the highest number of ski participants with a total of approximately 14.6 million, followed by France with 8.6 million. When considering the total population, the share of people who ski in European countries was the highest in Switzerland and Liechtenstein with 37 percent followed by Austria with 36 percent. This is a mind boggling Tourism market when considered in totality! Apart from normal Alpine skiing in known winter sports resorts a large number of people go for off piste skiing like the cross country skiing, ski mountaineering and so on. There are a large number of skiers in Russia and other nearby countries. Ukraine has about 1.1 million people who ski. A large number of these people keep on looking for newer areas for skiing.
Kashmir has virtually “White Gold” when one considers the potential for skiing! It would be interesting to reproduce the paragraph about Gulmarg in the International Report while describing skiing in India. “There are 3 acknowledged ski areas in the country. The largest one is Gulmarg, in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the most famous in this region of Asia. Runs range from 2'600 to 3'200 metres long. The ski area was equipped a few years ago with a 2-section gondola, famous for carrying skiers to an altitude of nearly 4'000 metres above sea level at its top station. A quad chairlift at the same high-altitude was recently added, making it the highest in the world. The area offers more than 1'000 metres of vertical drop, with pristine slopes. The village of Gulmarg lies at 2'500 metres above sea level. The base area sits below the 4'124 metre Mount Apharwat. This gives the place a magical feel for skiers. The resort is one of the few places on Earth where there may be 2 continuous weeks of snowfall. Furthermore, it offers a variety of runs: skiers will enjoy the high slopes of Aparwath, which offer magnificent views of K2 during good weather, or the runs in Kongdori. The best time to come to Gulmarg is from mid-January to mid-February, especially for skiers looking for a balance between a stable snowpack, combined with the powder snow down to Gulmarg, in the valley”. Interestingly on January 19, 2019 New York Times carried a story about Gulmarg which is worth going through. The Delhi based correspondent had visited Gulmarg last winter. His story is the best advertisement for the resort! The link to the story is given here. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/travel/a-family-ski-adventure-in-the-himalayas.html)
There cannot be more emphatic endorsement than this regarding the potential for Ski and other winter sports which we have! The only requirement is to ensure world class facilities, easy access and then marketing of the product. Even with the present rudimentary facilities we can attract a large number of foreign skiers especially the off piste adventure lovers. In fact, one could think of charter flights of skiers from neighbouring countries as the Srinagar airport is fully equipped to handle such flights. There could even be a direct helicopter service from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg for easy and quick access. At the present moment there are delays due to residual snow on Tangmarg-Gulmarg road and on the internal roads in Gulmarg. One needs to import salt water spraying machines to ensure cars drive up and move easily within Gulmarg. Apart from provision of world class facilities, Gulmarg needs efficient administration of these services through a fully empowered central authority. In all the European ski resorts there is a Mayor who supervises and co-ordinates all the services. Gulmarg too had a similar arrangement in mid-seventies and mid-eighties of the last century. The government had then set up a Winter Sports Co-ordination Committee under the Chairman of the local Notified area Committee. This committee used to supervise all arrangements including road clearance, cleaning roads of garbage etc. The Chairman was given direct access to the Chief Secretary of that time late Sushital Banerjee who used to sometimes hold the meetings himself. Such a high level arrangement is essential to ensure functioning of all services.
Pending upgradation of services and facilities to international standards Gulmarg can still attract a large number of skiers as mentioned in the International report. Here, the targeted marketing of the product comes in. First is its branding. Recently a calendar issued by the Jammu and Kashmir Bank has very nicely branded all the adventure tourism activities which Kashmir can offer. This is a very subtle and intelligent way of marketing. According to news reports the Tourism Department is sending teams to various places to market the J & K Tourism products by participating in various Marts, Exhibitions and so on. This is a very good step to keep Kashmir Tourism in circulation by registering presence in all tourism related events etc. However, this needs to be complimented by continuous FAM TOURS of tourism connected people to Kashmir especially to Gulmarg at the present moment. In addition, the ideal thing is to invite travel writers and reporters of famous travel magazines as has been done in the past. Those tours give more mileage then all the publicity and marketing done through various advertising agencies.
Finally, there is urgent need to have sufficient officers in the State Tourism Department who are fully knowledgeable and trained in various activities connected with Adventure Tourism. In fact, the Tourism Directorate used to have an exclusive Adventure Tourism Wing and all the officers in that wing were trained mountaineers and skiers. Apart from facilitating the conduct of Adventure Tourism activities, these officers were also co-ordinating various rescue arrangements which is an essential part of such activities as these are by nature hazardous. Now there is none! It may be worthwhile to a have separate department of Adventure Tourism manned by people trained in various adventure tourism activities like mountaineering, skiing, white water rafting and so on. In the alternative the existing Directorate of Tourism must recruit adventure tourism knowing officersto co-ordinate and supervise these activities.